If football isn’t coming home, divert it to Denmark

Date published: Sunday 4th July 2021 7:51 - Ian Watson

Maybe it is meant to be. But if you don’t believe in fate, you can count on the technique, nous and resilience of this incredible Denmark side…

 

“Some things are just meant to be.”

That, criminally, was one of the last lines we will hear from Clive Tyldesley these European Championships. But Denmark aren’t done yet. And while we could all debate what role fate has their story, it is rather more indisputable that Kasper Hjulmand’s band of brothers have the quality and resilience required to repeat their incredible triumph of 1992.

The Danes have ridden a wave of emotion since the horror of Christian Eriksen’s near-death ordeal in their opening game – of that there can be no question. But that momentum alone cannot take a team to the semi-finals of the European Championships.

Perhaps adrenaline saw them swat Russia aside in Copenhagen. But by the time they arrived in Amsterdam for the last-16 clash with Wales a week ago, the Danes’ minds were clear. That was evident in the manner they adjusted their shape seamlessly in a pre-rehearsed switch to counter the Welsh threat, which had pinned them in for 20 minutes at the Johan Cruyff Arena.

Then Andreas Christensen moved into midfield to both muzzle Aaron Ramsey and stand guard at Kieffer Moore’s front door and suddenly Denmark seized control. Upon which time their class shone through.

Kasper Hjulmand’s men carried that assertiveness and superiority all the way to Baku, where clear eyes again won out as much as full hearts.

Anyway, emotion was thin on the ground in Azerbaijan. Amsterdam last week was Little Copenhagen, but Baku offered little atmosphere. And smaller minds. A full house is impossible, but with the quarter-final of the European Championship should never be played in front of a crowd at a third of the allowed capacity. The biggest game in recent history for either nation was given a testimonial stage.

The opening goal certainly settled the Danes into their eerie surroundings. It helped too that it was given to them.

Initially by the officials. Denmark claimed a corner they had no right to, but once it was awarded, it was the Czech Republic who gifted Thomas Delaney the freedom of the penalty area. Upon first glance, the assumption was that Delaney had profited from a perfectly-executed set-piece routine. Not so. The midfielder simply stood on the penalty spot to head home Jens Stryger Larsen’s corner while two Czech defenders took Simon Kjaer’s bait.

Denmark then offered a gift of their own in the form of a sexy, sumptuous second goal. Joakim Maehle, the Denmark left wing-back and one of the players of the tournament, offered up the kind of cross Kasper Dolberg might have wined and dined had he not the more pressing business of volleying it into the Czech net.

Mercifully, Maehle was okay to continue moments later when his participation threatened to go the same way as Leonardo Spinazzola’s upon a Czech body landing on his ankle. Maehle had half-time to treat the ailment, but it was the Czechs who found a more effective remedy for their ills.

Jaroslav Silhavy made two substitutions which sparked an immediate improvement when his side were threatening to wilt in the Eurasian heat. They had already forced Kasper Schmeichel into a couple of saves before Schick netted his fifth goal of the tournament.

It capped a weary restart for the Danes, with Jannick Vestergaard getting himself twisted as Schick met Vladimir Coufal’s cross. It was typical of the type of goal that has brought the Czechs this far. Three of their five before today came from set-pieces, while only Spain of the sides in the last eight had attempted more crosses. But up against Christensen, Vestergaard and Kjaer, Schick was too often battling for scraps with the 27 other crosses his team-mates chucked into the Denmark box.

Schick’s strike prompted a greater reaction from Denmark as quickly they reasserted their authority. Having thrilled in the first half, Hjulmand’s men showed another string to their bow by grinding down the clock. Maehle and Yussuf Poulsen both had chances to re-establish their two-goal cushion, but at no point did it feel absolutely necessary, especially while Kjaer and Co. were nutting away whatever the Czechs bombarded them with from the flanks.

So on Denmark go to Wembley for their first semi-final since 1992. Of course, those of us pining for football to come home will hope their tournament ends there. But this Denmark side are on a journey of their own, one more arduous than any of us could have imagined or feared three weeks ago. Halting their momentum, especially when when that energy is combined with Hjulmand’s nous and his players’ technique, will be a tall order for any side that comes between Denmark and what many are starting to believe could be their destiny.

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